Media ownership and regulation: a chronology

Dr Rhonda Jolly
Social Policy Section

1950–1956: British interests, Murdoch junior, the Paton Commission and first television licences issued

In the late 1920s Australian Governments first began to contemplate if, and when, television would become a reality for Australians. There were many issues for the Government to consider, not least of which was the cost of establishing and providing services to a small and scattered population. Supporters of the new type of broadcasting argued for early adoption, but for over 20 years the government appeared convinced that television was not a commercially viable proposition for Australia.

On the other hand, the Gibson parliamentary inquiry into broadcasting in the early 1940s concluded that while there was much work to be done, introducing television to Australia would be feasible.[60] Later in the same decade, a Joint Standing Committee on Broadcasting recommended that an experimental television service should be established in Sydney and Melbourne as soon as possible and that the service should be overseen by the ABC.[61] In 1949, the Chifley Labor Government formally announced its intention to carry out this recommendation—a decision that was not well received by the existing commercial media interests.

Box 4: Gibson Committee—an oblique reference to media concentration

The Gibson Committee inquiry report into wireless broadcasting commented on media concentration in its 1942 report:

‘...there is little multiple ownership of broadcasting licences outside the newspaper world. Directly, and indirectly through persons associated with the work of daily newspapers, newspapers own or control 44 per cent of commercial stations. In the case of some papers a very small interest is held in one station only. In that of others, particularly those started in recent years, there is no interest in any station at all.

It is clear to us that the desire on the part of newspaper interests to acquire licences in the early days of broadcasting was inspired by a fear of this new medium for the dissemination of information and advertising. It was a defensive move by those who felt their pre-eminence could be challenged at some remote or proximate date, not then ascertainable. The acquisition of licences was governed principally by the acumen and perspicacity of individual newspaper proprietors; it was in effect, a case of the early bird catching the worm.

The passage of time has not justified all the fears of the controllers of the daily press and the evidence submitted convinces us that the universal popularity of wireless throughout Australia has not led to any diminution in the sales of newspapers, nor to any reduction in their profits, excepting perhaps in a few minor instances. On the other hand, the operation of broadcasting licences has not only made profits, generally speaking, for the shareholders in newspaper companies but has strengthened their position considerably’.[62]

The Opposition was opposed to the Chifley plan. Therefore, once it gained office under Robert Menzies, the Coalition Government began implementing a plan for television that mirrored the dual system of commercial and public broadcasting which existed for radio. In 1953, a Royal Commission was established to make recommendations to government on how the system for television could develop, how many stations should be licensed and what conditions and standards should be imposed on licensees. However, a month after the Commission began its deliberations, the Parliament passed legislation which ushered in the television era. According to the Postmaster-General, while there was to be a joint system of national and commercial stations, there was a clear expectation that commercial television was not merely a business; it was a public trust to be run for the benefit of the community.[63]

Six months later at 7pm on 16 September 1956, Bruce Gyngell, program manager for television station TCN Sydney, welcomed viewers to the first regular transmission of television programs. In an environment where only 70 per cent of homes had a refrigerator and 39 per cent owned a washing machine, it is clear that purchasing a television was going to be a major decision for families and it was predicted that only ten per cent of homes would have television after one year of its release.[64] This prediction proved to be conservative; 26 per cent of homes in Melbourne, for example, purchased a television in the first year after transmissions commenced.[65] By 1976, saturation of television had reached 95 per cent in most parts of Australia.[66]

Figure 4: Bruce Gyngall: welcome to television

Figure 4: Bruce Gyngall: welcome to television

Source: Google Images[67]


Milestones Details Document source
January 1950 The Menzies Coalition Government investigates the possibility of establishing a dual system for television broadcasting. Television proposal; may be open to commercials’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 January 1950, p. 3.
May 1950 Radio Australia becomes part of the ABC. Activities of Radio Australia: no policy change’, The West Australian, 1 June 1950, p. 4.
June 1950 The Government decides that private enterprise will be allowed to provide television services alongside national television services.
These services are to be allowed to broadcast initially in Sydney and Melbourne.
Private services may be extended to other capital cities if the Government considers the capacity of applicants justifies services being provided.
ABCB, Second Annual Report, op. cit., p. 14.
June 1950 The number of commercial broadcasting licenses in force reaches 102 and there are 37 national stations in operation.
Newspaper companies own 19 of the 102 commercial stations and hold shares in 25 others. Two broadcasting networks are in existence, the Macquarie Broadcasting Network and the Major Network.
ABCB, Second Annual Report, op. cit., p. 6.
April 1951 The Menzies Government returned at the polls.
1951 Sixteen capital city daily newspapers published. Twelve independent operators. Goot, Newspaper circulation in Australia, op. cit., p. 213.
August 1951 Fairfax launches the weekly newspaper the Australian Financial Review (becomes a daily in in 1963). Macquarie encyclopedia, op. cit., p. 522.
November 1951 An attempt by British interests (through Broadcasting Associates Pty Ltd) to take control of a number of Australian radio stations leads to a joint resolution of both Houses of Parliament that it is ‘undesirable’ for any non-Australian person to have a ‘substantial measure of ownership or control’ over an Australian commercial broadcasting station, regardless of whether that ownership or control is direct or indirect. ABCB, Fourth Annual Report, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1952 and Fifth Annual Report, Australian Government Printer, Canberra, 1953, pp. 8–9.
1951 Government sells its interest in AWA. ABCB, Fourth Annual Report, op. cit., p. 8.
August 1952 John Fairfax sells its interest in Woman’s Day and Home to HWT. Souter, op. cit., p. 597.
October 1952 Death of Keith Murdoch. Death of Sir Keith Murdoch’, The Courier Mail, 6 October 1952, p. 1.
February 1953 A Royal Commission on Television (the Paton Commission) is established. Royal Commission on Television, (the Paton Commission), Report of the Royal Commission on Television, LF Johnson, Commonwealth Government Printer, 1954.
March 1953 Legislation passes the Parliament to authorise the relevant Minister to grant commercial television licences under the form and conditions as he/she determines.
The Television Act also provides authority for the ABC to broadcast television.
Television Act 1953
June 1953 Newspaper companies own 18 of the 105 commercial broadcasting stations operating in June 1953 and have shares in 30 other stations. ABCB, Fifth Annual Report, op. cit., p. 9.
July 1953 Frank Packer makes an offer to buy the ordinary shares in Hugh Denison’s Associated Newspapers. Griffen-Foley, Changing stations, op. cit., pp. 195–7.
August 1953 In response to Packer’s bid for Associated Newspapers, the Fairfax company acquires a 39 per cent interest in that company (which also controls radio 2UE in Sydney). Ibid., p. 196.
September 1953 Rupert Murdoch returns to Australia from Britain to take over the media interests left to him by his father Keith Murdoch through the News Ltd company.
Papers owned by Murdoch initially are the Adelaide News, Sunday Mail, Radio Call and the Broken Hill paper, the Barrier Miner. The company also owns shares in radio stations in Broken Hill, Renmark and Adelaide.
The Murdoch family sells shares in the Courier Mail to HWT.
R Tiffen, Rupert Murdoch: a reassessment, New South Publishing, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2014, Chapter 2.
November 1953 As a result of sale of Murdoch interests, HWT acquires a controlling interest in Queensland Newspapers and the licences of a number of Queensland radio stations. Other media holdings of the company are two radio stations in Victoria and shares in Advertiser Newspapers, which in turns controls four stations in South Australia. Melbourne paper share deal’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 November 1953, p. 6.
1953 ABCB reviews rules relating to the broadcast of sporting events, lotteries and telephone conversations (these put in place by the Postmaster-General prior to the setting up of the Board).
New rules include that information concerning betting or betting odds for horse race events is not broadcast prior to the last event on a program, lotteries information is broadcast according to state legislation requirements and telephone conversations are broadcast only with the permission of the Post Office.
ABCB, Fifth Annual Report, op. cit., p. 9.
May 1954
The Menzies Liberal / Country Party Coalition Government returned at the 1954 election.[68]
September 1954 Report of the Paton Commission on television released. The Commission recommends establishing one national station and two commercial licenses in Sydney and Melbourne.
Report concludes that concentration of control could be regarded as contrary to the public interest and that regulation is needed to ensure programming of a high standard is broadcast.
Recommends a new section is inserted in the Broadcasting Act to require programs comply with standards set by the ABCB.
The Commission believes the licensing process could ensure the public interest is served.
Paton Commission, op. cit.
September 1954 The ABCB responds to requests from Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations and Australian Association of National Advertisers by increasing the amount of time allowed for advertising in programs. ABCB, Sixth Annual Report, Government Printing Office, Canberra, 1954, p. 23.
January 1955 The ABCB conducts public hearings into the granting of television licenses. Four applications are received for two Melbourne licenses, and eight for two Sydney licences.
Applications come from a narrow area of press, broadcasting and theatre interests.
The ABCB recommends that all four licenses are given to the applications with substantial press and broadcasting interests (Fairfax through the Amalgamated Television Services bid and Consolidated Press through Television Corporation in Sydney, and David Syme and HWT in Melbourne).
The Minister approves the ABCB recommendations.
Any foreign ownership involvement in a licence is limited to 20 per cent.
ABCB, Seventh Annual Report, Government Printer, Tasmania, 1955, pp. 26–34.
1955 The Argus newspaper sold to HWT by London’s Mirror Newspapers. R Murray and J Usher, ‘Argus’, in Griffen-Foley, ed., op. cit., p. 25.
December 1955
Coalition retains government under Prime Minister Menzies.
April 1956 Fairfax becomes a public company consisting of a holding company and various subsidiary companies, including Associated Newspapers and Amalgamated Television. Souter, op. cit., p. 598.
April 1956 Government notes that possessing a commercial television licence imposes a public trust obligation on commercial television services. C Davidson, ‘Second reading speech: Broadcasting and Television Bill 1956’, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 April 1956, pp. 1531–42.
June 1956 The Broadcasting Act is amended to extend the dual radio regulatory system of commercial and public service broadcasting to television. It also provides for a public inquiry into licensing.
The Minister is required to obtain a recommendation from the ABCB before granting a radio or television broadcasting licence. The Minister can, however, suspend or revoke a licence on the ground (among others) that it is in the public interest to do so.
Ownership of metropolitan television stations is limited to one; no more than two stations are to be owned nationally (section53A).
Program standards are to be determined by the ABCB. Five per cent of music broadcasts are to feature Australian works.
Television licence fees for the public are set at £5.
Broadcasting and Television Act 1956
June 1956 Broadcasting and Television Licence Fees Act is passed. Licensees to pay £25, regardless of whether stations had made a profit, plus one per cent of the gross earnings of stations. Broadcasting and Television Licence Fees Act 1956
November 1956 ABCB establishes a Children’s Advisory Committee to consider appropriate television content that could be broadcast for children on commercial stations. ABCB, Ninth Annual Report, Government Printer, Tasmania, 1957, p. 41.
September–December 1956 The first free-to-air television services commence in Sydney and Melbourne.
Fairfax is the major shareholder in ATN 7 Sydney; Consolidated Press the major shareholder in TCN 9 in Sydney. [69]
David Syme is a major shareholder in GTV 9 Melbourne and HTV holds major shares in Herald Sun Television (HSV 7) Melbourne.[70]
The ABC begins television broadcasting in November.
ABCB, Ninth Annual Report, op. cit., pp. 27–31 and KS Inglis, This is the ABC: the Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932–1983, Black, Melbourne, 2006, p. 198.

Box 5: the Paton commission on television: regulation tempered by agreement

The Paton Commission on television supported a cooperative regulatory system for commercial television—a system it considered would best serve the public interest:

‘We have been impressed by the evidence of close consultation between the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board on all aspects of broadcasting administration and, in particular, with respect to the formulation of standards relating to programmes. While it is of course, impossible to expect that on all matters the Board and the Federation will be in agreement, we have been informed that, in all cases in which specific determinations have been made by the Board relating to programmes of commercial broadcasting stations there has been not only consultation, but agreement, between the Board and the Federation.

Failing agreement, it is clearly essential that there should be a reserve of authority (which we suggest will most effectively be exercised through the licensing system) which will be designed to secure that commercial programmes will, in the broadest sense, serve the public interest. We feel, therefore, that, on the whole, the extension to commercial television stations of the existing practices with respect to the regulation of programmes of commercial broadcasting stations affords the most effective method of securing, not only that undesirable programmes should not be broadcast, but that programmes of really good quality should be available from commercial television stations.

It will, of course, be necessary to have some legislative provision, along the lines of the present provision of the Broadcasting Act relating to the programmes of commercial broadcasting stations, to secure that prompt measures may be taken (apart from regular reviews of station performances in the ordinary course of the administration of the licensing system) to prevent objectionable material from being transmitted’.[71]


  • Joint Committee on Wireless Broadcasting (Gibson Committee), Report of the Joint Committee on Wireless Broadcasting, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1942, p. 70.
  • A Curthoys, ‘The getting of television’, in A Curthoys and j Merritt, eds, Better dead than red: Australia’s first Cold War 1945–1959, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1986, p. 26.
  • Gibson Committee, op. cit.
  • C Davidson, ‘Second reading speech: Broadcasting and Television Bill 1956’, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 April 1956, p. 1536, accessed 13 March 2015.
  • H Hughes and M Joseph, The market for television in Australia, ANZ Bank, 1956, quoted in C Jones and D Bednall, Television in Australia: its history through ratings, Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT), January 1980, p. 4.
  • No doubt the staging of the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 contributed to this figure.
  • Hughes and Joseph, The market for television, op. cit.
  • Bruce Gyngall’, Google Images, accessed 12 March 2015.
  • Note this election was for the House of Representatives only; a half Senate election was held in May 1953.
  • Other shareholders include the Albert family who own a network of radio stations.
  • Other major shareholders in Television Corporation were foreign owned: (British) Associated Newspapers (20 per cent) and Phillips Electrical (ten per cent). The other major shareholder groups in Amalgamated Television consisted of AWA and the appliance manufacturer, Email. The British company Associate Newspapers also had shares in Herald Sun Television in Melbourne. Other major shareholders in GTV 9 were Electronic Industries (manufacturers of radio and television receivers), the Argus and Australasian newspapers and radio 3UZ. N Herd, Networking: commercial television in Australia: a history, Currency House, Strawberry Hills, NSW, 2012, pp. 42–46.
  • Royal Commission on Television, Report of the Royal Commission on Television, (Paton Commission), LF Johnson, Commonwealth Government Printer, 1954, p. 152.


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